Former ‘comfort women,’ leftists protest growing Philippines-Japan military ties



Victims of Japanese military wartime sex abuses in the Philippines and leftist groups protested in front of the Japanese Embassy in Manila last week to denounce growing military ties between the Philippines and Japan as the two nations held naval drills in the South China Sea.

“We are worried that what happened during World War II will be repeated this time — women being snatched, locked up and then raped,” Hilaria Bustamante, an 89-year-old former “comfort woman,” said during their demonstration.

The term “comfort women” is a euphemism to describe those who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.

“We really feel very bad now. That’s why we’re here to join the call for their ouster because up to now, they still haven’t addressed the abuses they did to women,” added another victim, 85-year-old Narcisa Claveria. “And now, they are coming back? They should be pushed out.”

Both are members of a group called Lila Pilipina, whose executive director, Rechilda Extremadura, said its members’ fears about the looming “militarization” in the Pacific started when the United States announced its security pivot to the region a few years ago.

With Japan’s entry into the picture — and in light of China asserting territorial claims in the South China Sea amid competing claims by the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan — there is a risk now of another war, with the Philippines being used as a launching pad, Extremadura said.

“We can’t be wrong about this because we are speaking from experience — that if there are foreign soldiers here, certainly, women will fall victim, among others,” Extremadura said in a speech.

She reiterated the group’s demands for an official apology from the Japanese government, compensation and the inclusion of Japanese wartime atrocities, including abuses against women, in Japan’s historical account of the war.

The group regards apologies offered by various Japanese leaders in the past as not representative of the Japanese government and payments made from the Asian Women’s Fund in the 1990s as merely atonement money.

“We also call on the people of Japan to keep a close watch on the plans of (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe, on the Article 9 of your Constitution which he has reinterpreted for a collective security agreement,” Extremadura said.

Teddy Casino, a former representative in Congress and currently spokesman of the leftist militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance), said history should remind Filipinos about the abuses of both the Americans and Japanese when both countries occupied the Philippines.

“It is clear that the interest of the U.S. and Japan is not to protect the Philippines from China, nor to preserve our territory and our sovereignty,” he said in his speech. “Rather, what the U.S. and Japan are after is to further expand their domination in the entire Asia so that they can impose and bring in the excess of their capital, their products, and advance their imperialist agenda of domination in the entire region.”

Speaking to Kyodo News later, Casino said that while the Philippines, on its own, cannot go up against China and would definitely need the support of the international community, it should not fall into the trap of taking sides only with the United States and Japan.

“We should mobilize our people, rather than depend on foreign troops. There is a big room for development in our armed forces. We can do this if our government is more innovative and creative, instead of falling into the old trap of choosing between two bullies,” he said.

For him, the Philippine military’s alliance with the U.S. for several decades only made its external defense capability weak because of its dependence.

“Whatever benefits they say that the Philippines gets from these exercises and military alliances are illusory. In fact, we become magnets for attacks by the enemies of the United States, like Japan during World War II,” Casino said.

Casino and Extremadura said their groups will conduct follow-up protests, especially now that Manila and Tokyo have announced that discussions have begun for the possible transfer of Japanese defense equipment to the Philippines, and the frequent presence of the Self-Defense Forces in the Philippines.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force conducted joint drills with the Philippine Navy last week off Palawan Island in the westernmost part of the country facing the South China Sea, sending a P3-C patrol plane to the area for the first time.

A separate annual Philippines-U.S. naval drill was also held in the region.